Tag Archives: travel

To Texas and back

A closer-up view of bluebonnets.
A close-up view of bluebonnets.

I have just returned from my annual trip to Tyler, Texas, to visit my almost 92-year-old mother, and, this time, to make a short (three-day) jaunt with my sister, who lives down there, too.  We planned this several months ago, before all of the problems with my condo made me decide to sell it and take another Long Trip, and the plane tickets were already bought, so I didn’t try to cancel it.

Mt. Rainier from the plane.
Mt. Rainier from the plane on the way down to Texas.

Anyway, Mother is getting more and more fragile.  I won’t get into her health issues here except to say how grateful I am that she’s still alive for me to go visit.  I stayed with my sister Ann, and that’s only one reason I’m grateful she’s down there nearby for Mother.

Anyway, I’d been wanting to go to Austin and San Antonio and the Hill Country for a long time, and since this time I had to rent a car, anyway, I decided to go, and to invite Ann to go along with me.  After a couple of days visiting with my mother, we headed south to San Antonio.

One of the nice things about Tyler is that to go any direction but due east or west, you pretty much have to get off the Interstate.  The drive to San Antonio, aside from missing one turn, not realizing we had until we’d gone too far to turn back, and having to reroute ourselves, was fun.  Wide open spaces, small towns, and wildflowers scattered all over the roadsides.

We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon, and found a hotel within walking distance of the River Walk and the Alamo, and went to eat supper along the River Walk.  The River Walk reminded us both a bit of certain parts of Disneyland, but it was still fun (and about 10 degrees cooler than up on the street), and we ate fancy pizza right next to the water.

The next morning, it was raining just a bit.  We strolled over to the Alamo under Ann’s umbrellas (she had two).

The Alamo.
The Alamo.
A close-up of where a cannon ball hit the Alamo during the famous battle.
A close-up of where a cannon ball hit the Alamo during the famous battle.
A view of the front of the Alamo from where we were waiting in line to get in.
A view of the front of the Alamo from where we were waiting in line to get in.  They don’t let you take photos inside.

I liked the Alamo.  It was very interesting historically (they did a terrific job with the museum exhibit part of the thing), and the gardens were lovely.  The rain was a minor nuisance, but not a big deal.  Yes, the Alamo is basically a shrine to Texas, but I knew that going in, and, well, I eat history up with a spoon, so I had no problem with it.

A blooming cactus in the gardens beside the Alamo.
A blooming cactus in the gardens beside the Alamo.

On our way back to the hotel to pack up and check out, we saw a whole bunch of carriages decorated as if for a wedding.  Turns out we’d arrived the night before San Antonio’s annual Fiesta began.  According to one of the carriage drivers, Fiesta attracts more people every year than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and was started when a bunch of ladies got drunk and flung flowers at each other 🙂

In the afternoon, we drove up to the Hill Country, which is sort of legendary for its spring wildflowers.  It did not disappoint.  After lunch in Fredericksburg, we took some back roads out through the rolling countryside (calling it hilly would have been stretching things, IMHO), and saw whole fields of flowers.  Bluebonnets, of course, but also winecups and evening primroses and all sorts of things.  Just gorgeous.

Bluebonnets!
Bluebonnets!
These are called winecups.
These are called winecups.
I had to look this one up in my brand-new Texas Wildflower field guide. It's called Prairie Pleatleaf, and it's a member of the iris family.
I had to look this one up in my brand-new Texas Wildflower field guide. It’s called Prairie Pleatleaf, and it’s a member of the iris family.

We wound up spending the night in the town of San Marcos, just south of Austin, and came in for a rude surprise when we turned on the Weather Channel.  A huge storm was headed our way.  You might have seen the recent news reports about flooding in Texas?  Well, we weren’t in Houston, where it got really bad, but the rest of it?  We were right where it was about to hit.

So we decided to cut our trip short by one day and go back to Tyler the next morning.

People think it rains a lot here in western Washington, and we do get a fair amount.  But it’s a soft rain.  Texas rain is like driving through a bleeding waterfall.  I’m not overly fond of thunder and lightning, either.  At least we didn’t have any tornado warnings.  But we made it back, and my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to go to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.  Maybe next time, if there is a next time.

Once back in Tyler, the weather cleared up (bad weather seems to go around Tyler a lot of the time, which is really weird), and until I left several days later (having planned the trip with the jaunt in the middle so Mother could rest up while we were gone), I not only spent as much time as I could with my mother, but I got to stroll around a nature trail just down the street from my sister’s house, where there were also lots of wildflowers.

Faulkner Park, near my sister's home in Tyler.
Faulkner Park, near my sister’s home in Tyler.  So many different kinds of trees, and so many different leaf shapes and sizes.
Red clover.
Red clover.  I’ve never seen clover blossoms that big and that color anywhere else.
Honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle.
Evening primrose (although this species actually keeps its blossoms open all day). Did I mention that I adore my new camera???
Evening primrose (although this species actually keeps its blossoms open all day). Did I mention that I adore my new camera???

The last day before I left, Mother and I drove out to a place called Love’s Lookout, about fifteen miles south of Tyler, where there’s a nice little bench with a beautiful view, and we sat and talked for a while.  It’s kind of our place, and I’m glad she was still able to go out there with me.

An autumn view from Love's Lookout, taken in 2006. I didn't take my camera with me this time, so you'll have to imagine how lush and green the countryside was the other day.
An autumn view from Love’s Lookout, taken in 2006. I didn’t take my camera with me this time, so you’ll have to imagine how lush and green the countryside was the other day.

And that was my visit to Tyler this year.  Every year now I wonder if this will be my last visit with my mother.  I hope not.

 

Coming home from the Canadian Rockies, Days 10 and 11

The last of the Rocky Mountains, along the Trans-Canada Highway.
The last of the Rocky Mountains, along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Two weeks ago, June 21 and 22, 2015.

So, yesterday was the Fourth, which means I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the computer. Plus my monitor died Friday night. Fortunately, Best Buy was open on the holiday.

The penultimate day of my trip was the summer solstice. I also crossed back into the Pacific Time Zone, so it was quite a long day. I woke up at the crack of dawn again, into a gray-gloomy rainy day (which sounds so lovely right now — the temperature outside right now is over 90F, and has been for the last five days).

I’d had a reservation at a hostel in Kelowna, 215 miles down the road from Golden, but I’d decided to cancel it the previous night, because, well, now that I was on my way home, I wanted to see how far I could get. I always get sort of antsy the last day or two on the road on a trip like this — ready to get home.

I headed west again on the Trans-Canada Highway, through two more smaller national parks, Glacier National Park (yes, Canada has a national park called Glacier, too), and Mt. Revelstoke National Park, but there really wasn’t much reason to stop. The section through Glacier, over Rogers Pass, was the last section of the Trans-Canada Highway to be completed, in 1962. That road is younger than I am! There’s a historical site at what I’d call a rest area here in the States at the top of the pass, and I stopped to take a few pictures.

Approaching Rogers Pass, in Glacier National Park.
Approaching Rogers Pass, in Glacier National Park.
Trans-Canada Highway monument, Rogers Pass.
Trans-Canada Highway monument, Rogers Pass.
Looking east from the Rogers Pass Monument.
Looking east from the Rogers Pass Monument.

From there on it was down, down, down. I stopped in the town of Revelstoke, at a combo Tim Hortons and gas station, for liquid refreshment for both me and Kestrel, then turned south off of the Trans-Canada at the small town of Sicamous, onto Highway 97, which stays the same number in both Canada and the U.S.

Chicory flowers, near Sicamous, BC.
Chicory flowers, near Sicamous, BC.

I drove past a pretty lake, and saw some blue wildflowers that had to be inspected and photographed, then south to the big city of Kelowna, where I arrived just in time for lunch (and was really glad I’d cancelled my hostel reservation). By that point, I’d left the lush forests of the western side of the Rockies behind, not to mention the rain and the cool temperatures. It was almost 30C, according to a bank thermometer in Kelowna, which translates to the lower 80sF, and not a cloud in the sky. It only got hotter the further I went, too.

The map had been somewhat misleading. I’d assumed that the double line that was Hwy. 97 through Kelowna meant that I’d be on a freeway, but no, just a four-lane boulevard with stoplights every hundred yards or so. It took me a while to fight my way through the traffic and reach the bridge across long, narrow Lake Okanagan. Then, after I was out of town, it turned into a freeway. Oh, well.

A glimpse of Lake Okanagan, south of Kelowna, BC.
A glimpse of Lake Okanagan, south of Kelowna, BC.

Lake Okanagan is lovely, and the road clings to the cliff as it threads its way down past vineyards and through small towns and the good-sized city of Penticton. After Penticton, orchards were the order of the day, and I could have stopped and bought cherries any number of times. Alas, I was down to my last couple of Canadian dollars and didn’t want to get more at this stage, plus, I wasn’t sure if U.S. customs would let me through with them. So I didn’t.

Lake Osoyoos, BC.
Lake Osoyoos, BC.

I reached the U.S. customs station, just north of the little town of Oroville, Washington, along the shores of Lake Osoyoos (oh-SOY-oos — I asked the customs agent), about the middle of the afternoon. A very nice Hispanic lady checked my passport, asked me to take my sunglasses off for a moment so she could get a better look at my face, and to pop my trunk. If I’d known she was going to want to look in there, I’d have put all my dirty clothes back in my suitcase, but the only comment she made was how she, too, liked the brand of chips I had in my food bag. Oh, well, worse things have happened.

And then I was back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit (a rather high degree of Fahrenheit at that, almost 90 degrees, alas). I drove past Tonasket, which was the knot of the lasso of this trip, on to Omak, another hour or so, and got there around four. Found the motel I stayed at on my research jaunts for Sojourn, and crashed and burned. I’d been on the road since about 6 am Pacific time, and I slept like I was really working at it.

And the next day I got up and drove the five hours home, over familiar roads, down 97 past Wenatchee to Blewett Pass, to I-90 and home. I think I made three stops, one for gas and real MickeyD’s iced tea in Brewster, one just north of Wenatchee for cherries, and one just before I got back on I-90 to gather one last picnic from my cooler and food bag for lunch that I ate as I drove over Snoqualmie Pass. I got home about 2 in the afternoon. The condo hadn’t burned down and the cats were fine (although extremely eager to go outside, and beyond annoyed with me).

And that was my trip to the Canadian Rockies. Decidedly one of the best trips I’ve made in recent memory.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 9

Along the Icefields Parkway.
Along the Icefields Parkway.

Thirteen days ago, June 20, 2015.

And so I turned towards home. But I had one more day in the Rockies, driving back down the Icefields Parkway, then west through yet another national park, so while I might have been headed back technically, there was still more than plenty to see.

For some reason I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was on the road by 7:30 in the morning. I wake up a lot earlier than I normally do when I’m traveling, but this was sort of ridiculous. On the bright side, because I was out so early, I got to see some elk alongside the road just south of Jasper townsite.

Elk just south of Jasper townsite.
Elk just south of Jasper townsite.

I’m sort of jaded about elk — I’ve seen so many of them in Yellowstone, and even had one bull in rut bugle under my hotel room window all night there once — but they’re still beautiful animals. I was less enamored of the tourons who were walking right up to them to take photos, but Darwin knows what to do with them.

I arrived at Athabaska Glacier by late morning, and stopped at the Icefields Centre, which I hadn’t done on the way up, just to see what was there. An unfinished (they were still working on the exhibits) big fancy building, mostly, but I did buy my fourth and last magnet of the trip in the gift shop there. I also took some photos from that new vantage point (up the slope on the other side of the valley from the glacier), and when I got home, discovered that among the slides I brought home in January from my mother’s house, there was one I’d taken (my Instamatic took square slides, so that’s how I know it was mine, not my father’s) of the same glacier from a similar viewpoint back in 1970. So here’s what a graphic example of global warming on a human timeline looks like:

Athabaska Glacier, 1970.  The parking lot is in the same place in both photos.
Athabaska Glacier, 1970. The parking lot is in the same place in the photo below.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.  The glacier has retreated about half a mile.

Then it was down, down, down into the Bow Valley, with one brief stop to keep from running over another small group of bighorn sheep, to Lake Louise village, where I bought tea and then headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kicking Horse Pass, my last crossing of the Continental Divide, and Yoho National Park.

Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.
Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.

Kicking Horse Pass (so named because an early explorer got kicked in the head by his horse there) was a fascinating place. I’m not that much of a railroad buff, although I’ve ridden Amtrak cross-country several times, but I’d never seen a railroad do what this one does before. The grade is so steep that it was all but impossible for trains to make it over the pass. That is, until an engineer got the bright idea to build tunnels in a figure eight configuration, giving more room for the trains to climb more gradually, with the tracks crossing over themselves as they climbed. If the train is long enough, you can see the engines and first cars passing directly over the later cars below them. I was lucky enough to be there when a long train passed through, and actually got to see this happen. It was hard to get good photos, but here’s one.

Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.
Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.  The part of the train below is passing underneath the part of the same train above.

After I finished marveling at the turn-of-the-last century engineering feat, I drove a bit further west and turned onto the Yoho Valley Road, which winds (including a couple of “I hope Kestrel doesn’t rear-end himself” switchbacks) up the Yoho Valley to Takakkaw Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in Canada, at 850 feet. There’s a trail right up close enough to feel the mist, of course. It really reminded me of Yosemite Valley, only without the crowds. It was also a great place to picnic.

Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.
Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.

And I saw another bear on the way up there. My seventh and last of the trip. I’ve never seen that many bears on one trip before.

My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.
My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.  The white is snow.

And more wildflowers, of course.

Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.

The visitor centre at the village of Field, back on the Trans-Canada Highway, was my next stop, with its little exhibit about the Burgess Shale, one of the most famous fossil beds in North America. Unfortunately, the site itself is only accessible by guided tour and a long, steep hike, but at least I got to see some of the fossils.

My last side trip of the day was the road to Emerald Lake and the natural bridge along the way. I was more impressed with the natural bridge (and its lovely waterfall) than I was with Emerald Lake.  It was still pretty, though.

Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Emerald (in name only) Lake.  The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.
Emerald (in name only) Lake. The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.

And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.

Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Then it was on to the town of Golden, and my hostel for the night, run by a very friendly Scottish woman who fosters cats for the local humane society. First cat fix I’d had since I left home, and very pleasant. She also recommended a restaurant, the Wolf’s Den, which was part historic log cabin and part sports bar, serving an excellent hamburger, salad, and the best onion ring I’ve had since Burgerville perched on top of the burger. The TV was playing the U.S. Open golf tournament, playing this year at Chambers Bay, just down the road from where I live (and part of the reason I timed my trip as I did), which I found rather amusing.

And that was my last day in the Canadian Rockies. For this trip, anyway. I’d love to go back someday.  I had a day and a half drive to get home, and a few more things to see along the way, though.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 7

I don't know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool.  I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this.  Just amazing.
I don’t know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool. I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this. Just amazing.

Thirteen days ago, June 18, 2015.

Off to Jasper! By way of the Icefields Parkway, which I’d been thinking of as the big highlight of the trip, and it did not fail me.

First, though, I want to mention a restaurant called Wild Bill’s (Peyto, not Hickok — a local fellow from the early days) in Banff townsite, where I ate the night before. Highly recommended, in an old-fashioned western sort of way. I had three sliders, one each of three different kinds, and a really good salad, and was treated to some boot-stomping music along the way.

Anyway, I was up and out early, checked out of the hostel, and walked to a local McDonalds — in a national park! — for a large hot tea (not even Mickey D’s does a proper unsweet iced tea up here <sigh>) before heading out of town, into enough on and off rain to clean my windshield.

And into a serious surfeit of stupendous mountains. The clouds came and went with the rain, but it was clear enough a good chunk of the time, and the cloud deck high enough when it wasn’t, that I had a good view most of the way. I did run into a bit of road construction just north of Lake Louise, but it wasn’t bad. And, after all, they have the same problem with road construction up there that they do in Yellowstone. A very short season for doing it, that coincides exactly with tourist season. Not much to be done about that.

Who cares about a little road construction when the view's like this?
Who cares about a little road construction when the view’s like this?

But the views were absolutely amazing. Mile after mile after mile of amazing. After a certain point I just sort of went on gorgeousness overload.

I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
And I think this is Bow Glacier.  There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.
And I think this is Bow Glacier. There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.

So here are some highlights of a day that basically was all highlight:

I took a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake (named after the same guy as the restaurant — and pronounced PEE-to, not PAY-to), which was a beautiful strip of aquamarine dropped down in the evergreens. Lots of wildflowers, too.

Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.

I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.

South from Bow Pass.
South from Bow Pass.

And I hiked about half a mile straight uphill to the foot of the Athabaska Glacier (which feeds off the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains). It provided a graphic example of why living on a moraine as I do results in a garden full of rocks.

The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
Athabaska Glacier.  A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don't let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.
Athabaska Glacier. A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don’t let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.

It was cold up there. I was so glad for my heavy jeans and my insulated jacket — and the hoodie with the hood up underneath, especially when it started raining on me again on the way back down to my car.

Then I drove down, down, down, into into Jasper National Park and a climate zone that felt much warmer than at Banff townsite even though it’s over a hundred miles farther north (since Jasper townsite’s altitude is 3484 feet, and Banff townsite’s is 4800 feet, it makes a certain amount of sense — 100+ miles distance is negligible in comparison). It was also sunnier, which was pleasant.

I stopped at Sunwapta Falls, where three rivers come together to form the Athabaska River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean, which just flabbergasted me at the time. I knew I was far north, but really? The falls are pretty spectacular, too.

Sunwapta Falls.
Sunwapta Falls.

And on to Athabaska Falls. This time of year, with the snowmelt, I was seeing all the waterfalls on my trip at their best. And more wildflowers, too.

The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
Another part of Athabaska Falls.  It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Another part of Athabaska Falls. It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.

Somehow, after I left the parking area at Athabaska Falls, I wound up on a sort of back road (not really another Bow River Parkway, but more like a paved forest service road back home) which wound north and eventually dumped me on the Parkway just south of Jasper townsite.

And so I arrived in Jasper townsite, which really reminded me of Libby. The scenery was different, but the ambiance was very similar. Small and remote (the nearest big city is Edmonton, about 225 miles, compared to Banff’s proximity to Calgary, only 75 miles) and touristy, but in a much more understated way than Banff. Unfortunately, my supper there was the polar opposite of what I’d had in Banff the night before, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.

The hostel was several miles outside of town, and they assigned me a bed tucked way back in a corner, which was fine by me.

It was an incredible day. I was exhausted, even after just about 120 miles, but wow, was it worth it. And in a couple of days, I was going to do it all over again, in the other direction.  After I explored Jasper.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 5

I love aspens.
I love aspens.  These were at Lake Minnewanka.

Twelve days ago, June 16, 2015.

This morning I visited Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the outskirts of Banff townsite. It contains the hot spring that first brought the area to the country’s attention and thus ended up being Canada’s first national park in 1885. Something they’re very proud of and make a bigger deal of than we do with Yellowstone (or some misguided folk, Yosemite), believe it or not. The first preserve was just a big spring inside a cave, discovered by the Stoney Indians, then rediscovered by some prospectors, who brought it to the attention of the railroads. It was developed into something of a resort, as have most of the other hot springs in these national parks.

They let you go into the cave, via a tunnel that was apparently blasted through the rock (the only entrance originally was in the top of the cave, and the only way in down via rope — the current entrance is a simple stroll). The basin, basically a pool, is still in fairly pristine condition, too, but the facilities built back in the early days for the tourists have all been closed down and paved over.

Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Another display.  I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
Another display. I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
The cave.
The cave.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.

The main exhibits were about the Canadian national park system, with a big multimedia program which was well worth watching. I do find it amusing that it was hot water that started both the U.S. and Canadian national park systems. I didn’t know that the Canadian national park service (whose members are called wardens, not rangers) predates ours, though. The Canadians have the first national park service in the world. We just used the Army to patrol our parks until we finally got our act together and created a park service.

Next, I made the brief drive out to Lake Minnewanka, which, like Jackson Lake in the Tetons, is not an entirely natural lake, having been dammed at some point in its past. But it was still a pretty drive, and I saw my first bighorn sheep of the trip alongside the road here, which was very cool. It was also a good place for a picnic lunch.

Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.

Then I headed back up to Johnston Canyon, where I did find a parking space this time, and I saw more bighorn sheep along the Bow River Parkway on the way there.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.

Johnston Canyon is, like I said before, another one of those narrow slot canyons, except that the trail for this one goes through the canyon itself, rather than along the rim. The trail is cantilevered out over the river for several stretches, which makes for some good views, and about half a mile in, there’s a waterfall. You can see it from the main trail, but there’s a tunnel, the far end of which is so close to the waterfall itself that you’re standing in the mist.

The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon.  I don't know if it's got a name.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon. I don’t know if it’s got a name.

The whole thing kept making me think of the Mist Trail in Yosemite, only not nearly so strenuous. Not less crowded, alas — people were even pushing strollers up that trail, which sort of boggled my mind. It was a spectacular trail, though.

My last jaunt of the day was back in Banff townsite: the Whyte Museum, where I caught a tour of two of Banff’s earliest houses, both log cabins, one owned by the people who started the museum, and the other owned by some early pioneers here. The museum itself was about the history and culture of the Banff area, and well worth the time I spent there.

It was a full day, and a good one. One more full day in Banff, then off to Jasper on Thursday.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 2

Self-evident.

 Twelve days ago, Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Into another country. Which was just different enough to remind me that I was in a different country, which was cool.

It was a long day, although less than 300 miles or 482 km. The kilometer thing was one of those things that was just enough different to keep me on my toes. It took me a little while to figure out that I could use Kestrel’s speedometer (which has km in red on the inside of the little wheel, and miles in white on the outside) to figure out mileage as well as speed, and I was inordinately pleased with myself when I did.

Along the road to the Canadian border.
Along the road to the Canadian border.

From Colville to the Canadian border just north of Metaline Falls is a stretch of road that felt more and more remote the farther I went. I climbed up out of one river valley and down into another, past several tiny hamlets, and at last I reached a very tidy-looking customs station in the middle of the woods, with a very pleasant white male customs agent. Among other things, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer, he asked of what, I told him, he asked more questions, and the upshot was I ended up giving him one of my business cards so he could look me up online and see for himself. He also said, well, maybe you’ll set a book at Banff, and I said, hey, I went to Yellowstone and ended up with a trilogy, so it’s not that farfetched. He laughed and told me to be sure and include the handsome customs agent. I told him I would.

I suspect those customs stations out in the middle of nowhere get pretty boring. That one isn’t even open 24 hours a day.

Canadian customs station.  My father used to pronounce that kind of stop sign as, "stop, already!"
Canadian customs station. My father used to pronounce that kind of stop sign as, “stop, already!”

Once I crossed the border and turned east on Hwy. 3, I started a serious climb up to Kootenay Pass, almost 6000 feet. Almost to the treeline.

My first view of the Rockies, from Kootenay Pass.
My first view of the Rockies, from Kootenay Pass.

Then down to another river valley and the farming town of Creston, where I found an ATM for cash and I bought my first gas in litres, which was interesting. I’d made a calculation before I left home, taking into account that a litre is a bit more than a quart and the favorable exchange rate, and had come up with multiplying the litre price by 3.2 so that I’d have a rough idea what I was actually paying. Gas is a bit more expensive in Canada than in the U.S., but it wasn’t as bad as I’d been thinking it would be.

From Creston, and lunch, where I also discovered that I couldn’t get unsweet iced tea (something that proved fairly consistent wherever I went — I drank a lot of hot tea instead and added my own lemon), I turned north and east towards the city of Cranbrook.

I’d read about a living history museum near Cranbrook called Fort Steele, which made an excellent afternoon stop. It’s sort of a cross between Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan, and Fort Nisqually just down the road from where I live. It’s a whole village of 19th century buildings that have been brought here from all over the region, with living history demonstrations and the whole nine yards. Not a whole lot was going on at the time I was there (part of the issue was that I’d crossed into the Mountain Time Zone without realizing it, and it was half an hour from closing when I showed up), but it was still well worthwhile, learning about the Hudsons Bay Company and the Mounties and so forth.

The Mounties headquarters at Fort Steele.
The Mounties headquarters at Fort Steele.
The sign says, "Painless Dentistry."  Somehow, I don't think so.
The sign says, “Painless Dentistry.” Somehow, I don’t think so.
Main Street, Fort Steele.
Main Street, Fort Steele.

But I had another couple hours’ drive to get to Radium Hot Springs, a town on the outskirts of Kootenay National Park where I planned to spend the next couple of nights, and I’d just realized the time change (there’d been no sign, anywhere, to tell me), so it’s a good thing it was a straight shot north, up the valley past Columbia Lake, which is the headwaters of the Columbia River (which flows north at this point, which is just wrong). A wall of mountains on my left, another on my right, in between a string of lakes and me on the road. Just beautiful.

The headwaters of the Columbia River.
The headwaters of the Columbia River.

The hostel was on a hill above town just outside the park entrance, and had a lovely garden and a very friendly dog to boot. A good place to light while I explored my first Canadian national park (at least since I was a kid).

The view from the hostel deck, Radium Hot Springs, BC.
The view from the hostel deck, Radium Hot Springs, BC.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 1

Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit.
Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit west of Sherman Pass.

Twelve days ago, Friday, June 12, 2015

I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from

Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?

So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).

Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.

I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.

I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.

The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.

View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.
View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.

East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
sculpture:

Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.

The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).

I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.

The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.
The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.

But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.

The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.

And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!

Visiting the Palouse, day 2

Steptoe Butte from the approach road.
Steptoe Butte from the approach road.

In which I discover I’m not excited about hundred-plus foot dropoffs on single-lane roads with no guardrails, but find the view worth it, anyway.

One of the reasons I decided to visit the Palouse, especially in spring, was because I had hopes of wildflowers. If you read my blog, especially in the summertime, you’ll note that I have a Thing for wildflowers and also for identifying them.

An interesting geological feature of the Palouse is the occasional butte sticking up out of the deep, rolling loess landscape. Two of these buttes are enclosed in parks, and the wildflower book I carried with me said that they were good places to go see wildflowers in the spring because they’re just about the only part of the landscape that isn’t farmed intensely for wheat and lentils.

Kamiak Butte County Park is a few miles north of Pullman, and it was my first stop of the morning. The road into the park approaches the butte from the north, and I was surprised to discover how thickly wooded it was with pines. Not another soul was there at nine in the morning on a weekday, which made me a bit uncomfortable as a woman hiking alone, but I started out on the trail, anyway, and was immediately rewarded by fawn lilies and thimbleberry blossoms scattered thickly among the pine needles.

Fawn or glacier lilies.
Fawn or glacier lilies.
Thimbleberry blossoms.
Thimbleberry blossoms.

The trail went pretty much straight up the side of the butte, and I am sort of ashamed to say that I never made it out of the forest to the top before I got pretty winded. I have no trouble hiking the three miles at 6300 feet on the loop back around behind Sunrise on Mt. Rainier every summer, but this trail was just a bit much, for some reason, not just physically. It was also disconcerting to be the only person on the trail except for a runner who nearly mowed me down as I was coming back down the hill.

So on north I went to Steptoe Butte State Park, which, according to Wikipedia, is a protrusion of rock almost 25 times older than the land surrounding it. It’s such an archetype that this sort of geological formation is officially called a steptoe wherever it’s found (the word steptoe itself comes from the name of an army officer in the Indian Wars — Kamiak Butte was named after a local Indian chief, which seems only fair).

Steptoe Butte was similarly deserted, which was a good thing. There’s a road to the top, winding three times around the butte to get there. It’s barely wide enough for a compact car, there is no guard rail until you reach the top but a good many potholes, and the butte goes straight up on one side and drops to the base over 3600 feet below from the top on the other. I did not meet another car either going up or coming down, for which I am extremely grateful, because I’m not sure what I would have done if I had. But the views from the top were spectacular.

From the top of Steptoe Butte.  One of those "you can see the curvature of the earth from here" views.
From the top of Steptoe Butte. One of those “you can see the curvature of the earth from here” views.
Starting back down.
Starting back down.
One lane, no guardrails, 3000 feet straight down on the left.
One lane, no guardrails, 3000 feet straight down on the left.

I was very pleased with the wildflowers I saw, too.

Gray's biscuit root.
Gray’s biscuit root.
Arrowleaf balsamroot.
Arrowleaf balsamroot and yarrow.
Wild cherry blossoms, I think.  The bark looks like cherry, anyway.
Wild cherry blossoms, I think. The bark looks like cherry, anyway.

And a critter.

Chipmunk at the base of Steptoe Butte.
Chipmunk at the base of Steptoe Butte.

By the time I white-knuckled my way back down to the bottom, it was getting on towards noon, so reluctantly I started making my way west again.  I saw a huge piece of farm machinery plowing along the side of one of those voluptuous curves, which made me wonder if the operator had a hard time keeping it from tipping over.

Plowing the Palouse.
Plowing the Palouse.

While I was passing through the town of Colfax, I saw a sign for a quilt shop, and of course I could not resist. The shop, tucked into a turn-of-the-last-century building on the main drag, had some lovely fabric, and I came out with 3/4 of a yard of souvenir.

Then I topped off my gas tank and headed out on U.S. 26, which eventually took me all the way back to I-90 at Vantage and home, crossing the rest of the Palouse, the almost-manmade-looking dividing line between it and the channeled scablands, and the orchard country, before I headed over the mountains again.

It was a lovely two days, and exactly what I needed, even after a winter that wasn’t really a winter this year.

To the bottom of the Grand Canyon

 

Taken on a return trip as an adult.  If you look at the plateau to the lower left, you can see the trail we traveled when I was twelve.
Taken on a return trip as an adult. If you look at the plateau to the center left, you can see the trail we traveled when I was twelve.

The summer after I turned twelve years old, my parents gave me the best birthday present ever. Ever since my first visit to the Grand Canyon when I was five or six, I’d wanted to go down to the bottom on the mules. But you had to be twelve to take that trip, so I had to be patient.

At last I was old enough. Early one morning we left our tent trailer parked at a campground on the South Rim, met the wranglers at the corral right on the rim, and climbed aboard our mules. Because I was the youngest person on this trip of about twenty people, my mule’s reins were tied to the saddle of the wrangler who rode at the front of our group. My mother was behind me, and my father, whose mule is the only one whose name I remember, because that poor animal was named Baby Doll, was behind her.

We all wore hats bought in the souvenir shop, because the guidelines we’d been given when we signed up said everyone needed to wear a hat to shade them from the sun. Mine had a nautical theme, of all things, and for some reason the decorations on it had my father, who had an extremely warped sense of humor, saying that it looked like a mad beaver.

My mother, who had had surgery just a few months before, remembers telling my father that she was going, that she wasn’t letting her little girl go down there without her.

All I remember is how magical it was. Incredibly beautiful. I really don’t have the words for it. I just remember layer after layer of varicolored rock, decorated with sparse trees and cactus and the occasional wildflower.  I wish I had the photos my father took of our trip, but they’re all slides, and I haven’t been able to have them scanned yet.  So you’ll just have to watch this wonderful National Park Service video:

The trail was narrow and, in many places, several hundred feet straight up on one side and several more hundred feet straight down on the other. The mules, we were told, were trained to face out towards the drop whenever they stopped, because when a mule is hit by something, like a falling rock, its first instinct is to back up. The trail was so narrow that sometimes it felt like the mule only had its back feet on the ground when we stopped like that.

It was an incredibly hot day. We were almost to the bottom when my mother felt as if she was going to pass out from the heat. One of the wranglers stayed behind with her in a shady spot as the rest of us went the short distance on to Phantom Ranch, and she followed a little while later. It was 123 degrees in the bottom of the canyon that day.

Phantom Ranch is an oasis, with Bright Angel Creek flowing nearby and the lovely little stone and wood cabins (each with its own evaporative cooler, which my mother, especially, greatly appreciated). I spent most of the late afternoon in the creek, until they rang the bell for supper.

I remember it being much cooler the next day, but maybe that’s because by the time the heat of the day had arrived, we were several thousand feet higher up, almost all the way back to the South Rim.

I do remember being sore for days after that trip down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but it was one of the milestones of my childhood. I’ve been back to the canyon as an adult, and I still look down on the trail stretching across the Kaibab Plateau and think, “Did we really do that? Did we really?”

Yes, we did.

A trip to the Okanogan country, day 2

Harry the pig, who resides in the hamlet of Molson, Washington.
Harry the pig, who resides in the hamlet of Molson, Washington.

The knee could have been worse, I suppose. I won’t be doing any hiking today, at any rate.

But I head north to one of my favorite places in the Okanogan Highlands, the little half ghost town, half hamlet of Molson, which has the name of a Canadian beer because when the town was first founded, its settlers thought they were north of the 49th parallel (as it turns out, they were a couple of miles south of it, but oh, well).

It’s kind of a drive up there, another hour or so along the Okanogan River, past the little village of Riverside and through the slightly larger town of Tonasket, up to Oroville, along the southern shore of long, narrow Lake Osoyoos, which is cut in half by the U.S./Canadian border. There’s a huge grocery store just south of the customs building, with a parking lot always full of cars with British Columbia license plates. I guess groceries are cheaper in the U.S.?

At Oroville I turn east on a little two-lane called Chesaw Road (you know you’ve made the correct turn when you see the sign saying this way to the Sitzmark Ski Area, a little rope tow out in the middle of nowhere about forty miles out of Oroville), and head up through a narrow canyon, gaining quite a bit of altitude in the process before I come out on top of an undulating plateau. These are the true Okanogan Highlands, and are mostly ranchland where they’re not part of the national forest. About twelve miles east of Oroville is the lefthand turn on Molson Rd.

This is beautiful countryside, in so many ways. If you love rolling hills, larches and pines, golden brown grass, and wide open spaces, or you have a thing for wondering who lived in the occasional old, abandoned building out in the middle of the meadow, or even if — in spite of being absolutely in love with the thick Douglas fir forests on the west side of the mountains — you’re simply enthralled with the enormity of the bright blue sky, then the Okanogan Highlands are a balm.

One of the abandoned buildings you find scattered about the Okanogan.  This one is on the road to Molson.
One of the abandoned buildings scattered about the Okanogan. This one is on the road to Molson.

And the little town of Molson is well worth the drive. In the first place, it’s the home of the Molson School Museum I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

In the second, the citizens of Molson have preserved about an acre’s worth of historic buildings, which are open all the time so you can go in and explore.

The ghost town of Old Molson.
Part of the ghost town of Old Molson.
Inside one of the ghost town buildings of Old Molson.
Inside one of the ghost town buildings of Old Molson.

And in the third place, they have Harry the pig.

I love Harry.  I wanted his backstory so badly I invented one for him.  And then wrote a novel around it.
I love Harry. I wanted his backstory so badly I invented one for him. And then wrote a novel around it.

Now, I don’t know if the plaster pig in the abandoned store window in ‘downtown’ Molson actually has a name — I never asked. But in my novel Sojourn he’s Harry, and he’s very important to my fictional Conconully. As a matter of fact, the town might not even exist without him. So I love him. He’s just such a whimsy for a place like that.

After a couple of hours exploring and a pleasant picnic lunch, and a gravel lane that eventually leads me back to Tonasket, I reluctantly head south again. I need to be home by tonight, and it’s a good five-hour drive if I take the bit of a detour into the Methow Valley that I have planned.

My goat trail for the trip.  Actually, it was a very nice, well-maintained gravel road.
My goat trail for the trip. Actually, it was a very nice, well-maintained gravel road.

At the town of Okanogan I turn west, and less than half an hour later I realize that I ought to have checked the road conditions first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, this past summer Washington state experienced its largest wildfire ever, which covered over 250,000 acres in the north central part of the state. The Carlton Complex fire caused damage that the area will still be recovering from years from now, and part of that damage was to U.S. Highway 20 between Okanogan and the Methow (pronounced Met-how, pronouncing the T and the H separately) Valley. The traffic was down to an alternating one lane for over a mile, and I lost a good half an hour by the time I reached the valley.

That was just my first check. The second was that State highway 153, which runs south down the valley towards Wenatchee, was also closed due to fire damage. Fortunately, a backroad runs parallel to it and a detour was set up. But I lost another hour by the time I got to Wenatchee.

Still, it was worth it, although I don’t think I’d have made the detour had I known. U.S. 20 climbs up over a magnificent pass and descends into the scenic Methow Valley, and the backroad down the valley was spectacular, crossing and recrossing the Methow River in the shadow of glorious mountains. And I found a non-crowded fruit stand just north of Wenatchee and loaded up on apples and pears.

I didn’t get home till well after dark that Sunday evening. I was tired and my knee was sore. But it was all so worth it. I highly recommend a weekend in the Okanogan country.